Survey results released this week indicate that use of electronic cigarettes by American teenagers continues to rise, even as their use of conventional cigarettes continues to fall. You might think these diverging trends would give pause to critics who worry that e-cigarettes are “reglamorizing” the old-fashioned, combustible kind. Yet opponents of vaping seem undeterred by reality’s failure to match their predictions. Longtime anti-smoking activist Stanton Glantz recently told USA Today “there’s no question that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking.”
If e-cigarettes were “a gateway to smoking,” you would expect to see people try them first, then move on to traditional cigarettes. But according to a recent review in the journal Addiction, “Regular use of [e-cigarettes] by non-smokers is rare, and no migration from [e-cigarettes] to smoking has been documented.” Such migration would not necessarily show that vaping encourages smoking, since people predisposed to smoke may be especially likely to try e-cigarettes. But if Glantz were right, this sequence would be common.
Furthermore, if Glantz were right, the rising popularity of e-cigarettes would be accompanied by increased consumption of conventional cigarettes. But except for one study showing vaping and smoking rising in tandem among Polish teenagers, there seems to be no evidence this is happening. It certainly is not happening in the United States, where smoking rates among teenagers have reached record lows as more and more of them have tried e-cigarettes.